Upon arrival at the hotel from the airport earlier in the afternoon, I had found this notice of “Tips & Advice for (a) Safe Stay in Tehran” on the dressing table in the room. It’s all common sense really, and something that one should take note of regardless of the city one is travelling to. However, with this being Tehran, I still read the notice somewhat studiously 😓, in particular, point no. 2 in the photo above.
Little did I know that I would actually have a problem with a secret agent (?) later on in the evening...
After dinner at the traditional restaurant, I left and walked back to the hotel (which is probably just about 200-300m away from the restaurant) with my DSLR camera hanging from my neck. There was hardly anyone around apart from the occasional cars passing by. I was maybe just about 100-150m from the hotel when a car stopped and the driver asked me something in Persian. I thought he was asking for direction so I simply said, “No Persian. Only English”. He insisted that I should go closer to his car, to which I said no, and kept on walking towards the hotel.
I thought that was it but then the driver seemed a bit annoyed and got out of his car and came over to me, at which point I thought maybe I should just sprint back to the hotel while he’s not in the car. But then again, I thought, maybe not :-)
In his exasperation at not being able to express himself clearly (or rather making me understand what he’s saying), he kept pointing at my camera and pointing back to his car, which I assumed to mean that he wanted me to get into his car and follow him somewhere else. I, on the other hand, kept saying, “No” and kept pointing at my hotel (which can be seen from the place), saying “Hotel”.
(I should probably highlight that the guy was travelling with a younger sidekick in the car and while both were smartly dressed, they were not driving a police car and neither were they dressed in a uniform. He didn’t show me any ID as well, thus my reluctance to follow him to his car. If they were in a uniform or at least travelling in a police car, I probably would have been only too happy (albeit maybe grudgingly, heh heh!) to comply with their requests/ instructions.)
I was hoping that by highlighting the fact that my hotel was nearby, it would at least (1) make sense to him to just follow me to the hotel, and with the assistance of the receptionist, perhaps clarify things up if there is any problem in the first place; or (2) give them ideas to just drive away if they are not from the police force, and were just trying to rob me blind – although by then, I believe if they were out to rob me, they would have done so already.
In the end, common sense prevailed and the guy asked his sidekick to walk together with me back to the hotel while he drove his car slowly from behind, like making sure that I was not going to suddenly run off somewhere to hide. 😁 I tried to make a friendly conversation with the sidekick but he didn’t seem to speak English either.
When we got to the hotel, I explained to the receptionist that I was stopped by these two guys but I didn’t know what it was for. They exchanged a few words and then the receptionist told me that the older guy was saying that I was taking photos of some buildings nearby when they stopped me. I denied the accusation and (thank God for digital cameras) I showed all the three guys that the last photos I had taken then were the ones at the restaurant where I just had dinner and nothing after that.
They again exchanged a few words but the older guy didn’t seem to feel satisfied with my explanation. He asked to see my passport and travel and hotel booking arrangements that I had with the hotel. At this point, I was really thankful that I had made all the arrangements via a local travel agency, but not so thankful about having a passport full with stamps from too many countries in the Middle East and Europe. The fact that I seemed to travel a lot to Saudi Arabia and the UAE - apart from Syria and Lebanon - (based on the no. of visa stamps I had in my passport) somehow made him even more suspicious (not that I can blame him) that he kept asking me what I was doing in Saudi and Dubai and what I was doing in Tehran, and so on.
After a few more exchanges between him and the receptionist, but not before one last accusing glance at me, the guy left, followed by his sidekick, and followed by a huge sigh of relief on my part. 😌
I probed the receptionist a bit afterwards but he said it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just that they saw me walking alone at night with my “big” camera and thought I was a foreign journalist/ reporter doing on the ground reports about some demonstrations of some sort that were happening in Tehran at the time. I pointed out also that the guy didn’t show any ID to me when he first stopped me, and he didn’t show it to the receptionist either. His explanation was simple. “If those guys are not police or secret agents, they wouldn’t have bothered to come into the hotel.”
So anyway, well, yeah... *takes in a deep breath* phew! So much drama on the very first day alone! 😓
I wonder what to expect on Day 2?
P.S.: While obviously I was nervous about the brief encounter, in hindsight, I suppose they didn’t really go overboard in carrying out their job. So kudos for that. In some other countries, which shall remain nameless, I would _probably_ have been bundled into their car and brought to someplace else! 😁
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